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National blood agencies issue joint urgent call for new donations

Several countries, including Australia, Japan and Great Britain, already encourage blood donations from some gay men.
WBFO File Image
Getty Images/Science Photo Library
Several countries, including Australia, Japan and Great Britain, already encourage blood donations from some gay men.

Hospitals in Western New York and across the nation have a critically low supply of blood. America’s Blood Centers, the Association for the Advancement of Blood and Biotherapies and American Red Cross have issued a joint emergency call, urging donors to come forward.

January, local blood center spokespersons say, is traditionally a slow time of year for donations. The reasons for a decreased turnout, traditionally, include seasonal illnesses, weather and holidays. COVID has further complicated efforts.

“Since the beginning of COVID, blood collection has been an ongoing issue,” said Sarah Diina, spokesperson for ConnectLife, which is affiliated with ABC and AABB. “Obviously, when everything initially shut down, we had no school drives, we had no business drives, we had no community drives. We were really dependent on the community coming into our neighborhood blood donation centers, and we have four of those across western New York to donate. And just because everything was shut down, that didn't mean the hospitals were shut down.”

Meg Rossman of the American Red Cross of Western New York said they experienced a 34% drop in new donors in 2021.

“This has really been a build up of the last four months,” she said. “If we look at the month of August, going into September, we started to experience that low donor turnout as a result of the emergence of the Delta variant. Now, with all these other compounding factors and the emergence of the Omicron variant, you know, folks are concerned and we certainly understand that.”

Agencies had to get creative during the pandemic. Diina said in lieu of community drives, they were able to attract new donors to their fixed locations. The Western New York chapter of the Red Cross serves five counties, but is also part of a larger 27-county cluster which holds hundreds of drives daily.

Like other institutions, they could use help not only with donations but with staffing them.

“We've held a number of hiring events over the course of the last few months, not just here in Western New York, but across our 27-county footprint,” Rossman said. “And we're always looking for phlebotomists to help staff those blood drives, because it's vitally important to the process.”

Both local organizations, meanwhile, have turned to incentives to attract new and returning donors. Those donating to the Red Cross are entered into a drawing to win Super Bowl tickets. ConnectLife’s incentives have included Buffalo Sabres tickets and will offer Buffalo Bandits tickets next month.

Right now, though, they’re hoping Buffalo Bills fans will give blood for the chance to attend Saturday evening’s playoff game against the New England Patriots.

“Anyone who makes an appointment and donates this week will be entered to win one of five pairs of tickets,” Diina said. “And the response we have had to that has been amazing. We have had hundreds of appointments made just for this week, which is phenomenal.”

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.